Listening: Nouwen

Listening Nouwen

“To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.” Henri Nouwen, Henri Nouwen Society, Daily Meditation, excerpts from Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey.


Listening is at the heart of being a spiritual friend. Nouwen reminds us that it is not waiting our turn to talk. It is letting someone else know you are offering the gift of your attention and time to be present with them. Some think it may be easier for introverts, but in reality, introverts may still be processing what they want to say in their minds while others are talking and only pseud-listening. Extroverts may have difficulty responding too much and too soon to what they are hearing, for they better process what they hear on the outside.   The answer is practice. This an art form that must be practiced consciously every day until it becomes unconscious like brushing our teeth.

We have grown up in a multitask world where we learn to do multiple tasks at a time, eating while we work or watching television, working on several projects, multiple problems at a time, looking at emails, texting, or searching on our I phones while we are sitting down to meet with others. While someone is talking to us, our pattern becomes to think of how we are going to solve another problem as soon as we move on to the next project or meeting.

Living in the present, active listening are becoming lost arts. Again, we must practice them intentionally. My experience is that keeping eye contact helps keep me focused on the person or people I am listening to. This helps us actively “look for,” visibly and invisibly try to see the Christ within others that can only be revealed when they can also see the Christ within us.

 I have a few spiritual friends who unconsciously keep their eyes closed while they talk. Even in these circumstances, we can try to image Christ inside and behind that protective layer of flesh that is usually open to us.

Listening is an art form and a gift. St. Benedict calls it, "listening with the heart of your heart."